The Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 has built additional health infrastructure across the country, notably 39 labs across 25 states, writes Chido Nwakanma.
Students of Policy in Nigeria and Africa must pay attention to institutions such as the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, the Nigerian framework for the management of the pandemic that struck at the beginning of 2020. One area of interest would be to compare its performance with what its peers are doing across the world. Another is the frequent mismatch between policy statements and their execution in Africa’s most populous country.
Six months into its formation, the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19 has evolved a robust National Response Strategy and contributed to the up-scaling of critical health infrastructure in Nigeria, particularly in disease identification and investigation.
Through the work of the PTF, Nigeria has built additional 39 molecular laboratories able to carry out investigations into coronavirus and related ailments. There were barely five such laboratories in the country in March 2020 when the PTF commenced work.
Dr Sani Aliyu, the PTF National Coordinator, confirmed that pushing for and up-scaling health infrastructure across the country is one of the significant contributions of the PTF.
These molecular labs are part of the 74 laboratories the National Centre for Disease Control approved for COVID-19 tests in Nigeria as of 20 October 2020. They consist of 68 public laboratories and six private health facilities of which COVID-19 tests are free at the public health facilities.
Part of the up-scaling of Nigeria’s medical response has seen the establishment of 43 Rapid Response Teams in the States.
Dr Omotayo Bolu, a senior executive with the PTF, said: “The State Rapid Response teams are national-level teams of experts mobilized during the initial stage of the pandemic to quickly support the state teams in setting up the COVID 19 State Emergency Operation Centers. They supported the state teams to quickly ramp up their responses, especially for epi-surveillance, case finding, sample collection, case management, and risk communication. Specifically, once a case is detected, they investigate and initiate contact tracing, ensure testing of contacts and recommend positives for isolation.”
The PTF played a central role in the establishment of the additional laboratories. It coordinated and mobilized critical stakeholders including Ministries, Departments and Agencies, donors and the private sector (notably CACOVID) to align towards the goal of achieving a single national response, thus optimizing efforts, ensuring efficiency, and avoiding duplications.
It also assisted with resource mobilization. Dr Bolu states: “PTF mobilized partners to provide resources including donations of critical lab equipment and supplies. PTF facilitated the expansion of labs services involving private labs, thus increasing service coverage and uptake.”
The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control took on the role of accrediting the labs before the establishment of their services per strict guidelines and accreditation criteria.
Through the prompting and assistance of the Task Force and the NCDC, Nigeria now has many isolation centres to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. State governments, private sector coalitions such as CACOVID as well as groups and individuals established these isolation centres.
What will happen to the isolation centres as the COVID-19 case load continues to decrease? What is the counsel of the PTF on the matter? The PTF executive stated: “The plan is to transition temporary isolation centres with its equipment to permanent isolation centres in each state. The aim is to increase the level of preparedness of the states for future epidemic/pandemics. The goal is to ensure that Nigeria has permanent structures and equipment that it can sustain to respond to the ongoing outbreak and future epidemics.”
Dr Bolu offers an overview of the role of the agency. “The PTF stakeholder mobilization has resulted in the commitment of resources in the health system. These health system investments made it possible to provide critical medical equipment, training and supplies that were not readily available pre-COVID-19. Thus, it has improved the preparedness level of the health system, being in a better position to handle future epidemics/pandemics.
“Working in close collaboration with NCDC, Federal Ministry of Health and other partners, the PTF facilitated the in-country expansion of laboratory testing capacity, isolation/treatment centres,Intensive Care Units and other equipment such as ventilators & PPEs. These infrastructures and equipment domicile in various states and they will continue to put them in good use for other medical responses to Nigerians beyond COVID-19.”